The Internet is becoming an increasingly essential part of our society. People simply cannot thrive in our modern world without having access to a quality Internet connection. In the U.S. however, quality Internet is becoming difficult to come by. Only a small number of aloof corporations offer broadband service and the services they provide are proven to be growing in price and declining in quality.
A majority of the ISP industry is controlled by Comcast and AT&T. These two companies have a total monopoly on broadband Internet service in many areas across the U.S. Because of their size and wealth, these companies are able force out competition all while raising prices and not improving service quality.
A 2013 analysis of Internet speeds and prices by the New America Foundation found that in most major U.S. cities, Internet speeds are decreasing or stagnating while prices are rising. Between 2012 and 2013, most major U.S. cities did not see any measurable increase in connection speed. The only cities that did not see this trend were Chattanooga, Tenn. and Lafayette, La., which both have their own municipal broadband service.
These publicly provided Internet services are highly successful and have forced ISPs like Comcast and AT&T to compete when normally they would not have. Government involvement created more competition which drove down prices and increased the quality of service: an all-around win for everyone involved.
Chattanooga installed its own fiber optic network a number of years ago. It offers speeds of 1 gigabit per second for only $70 per month. A cheaper option for 100 megabits per second only costs $55 per month. These speeds are light-years ahead of the average U.S. connection speed which is only about 9.8 megabits per second according to an analysis done by Akamai Industries.
In Lafayette, they have LUSFiber which is a municipally-owned company that competes in the private market and offers Lafayette citizens Internet, cable TV and phone service at highly affordable prices.
Aside from these two shining examples of government intervention, U.S. broadband service is a complete joke when you compare it to services offered in other countries. In Amsterdam a 500 Mbps Internet connection costs only $86 per month, while AT&T’s 500 Mbps connection here in the U.S. costs approximately $300 per month.
AT&T has also recently stated that it was completely halting the expansion of its fiber optics service over the net neutrality debate. It has even stated that a free and open Internet would actually do more harm than good. AT&T has been in the courts recently over trying to implement Internet “fast-lanes” in order to control web traffic.
Comcast has recently released a blog post claiming that it supports President Obama’s call for net neutrality, even though all of their actions prove otherwise. Like AT&T they are forcing Netflix to pay extra in order to have access to higher streaming speeds and are only abiding by open content rules, for they are legally obligated to because of their merger with NBCUniversal.
The only shining knight amongst private market ISPs is Google which rolled out its Google Fiber Internet service in Kansas City back in 2013. This move brought a much-needed breath of fresh air to the ISP industry and forced Comcast and AT&T to better compete in the city. However the expansion of Google Fiber is incredibly slow and a majority of future rollouts are only in the planning and development phase.
Until Google is able to expand its Google Fiber service, we need the government to step up and actually regulate ISPs and provide a public option for Internet service. At the end of the day Comcast and AT&T, who have a monopoly on the market, are only out for themselves and their shareholders. They don’t care about their customers or about providing excellent service and are able to get away with it because they often are the only two options available. The government needs to act.